2021/22 Season in Review – Livingston
The campaign started with a very transfer window for the Lions, with seventeen players departing permanently or on loan with fifteen coming into the Tony Macaroni Arena. Amongst those departing were first-team players Jon Guthrie, Scott Robinson and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas who had played a key part in Livi reaching the top six last season.
New recruits came in the form of Bruce Anderson, Ayo Obileye and Andrew Shinnie but as per, the Lions were tipped to be in a relegation battle as the club yet again had the lowest budget. These predictions were looking to be fairly accurate as Livi had a torrid start to the season, with a less than inspiring Betfred Cup run seeing the club barely scrape through a group that should have been no problem. A run of four league games against Rangers, Aberdeen, Motherwell and Hibs saw David Martindale’s side pointless and at the foot of the table.
An inspired Max Stryjek performance against Dundee gave the Lions their first point of the season before Andrew Shinnie’s wonder goal saw Livi take three points off Celtic, the last time the Glasgow club lost this season. However, a very poor performance against Hearts at Tynecastle and a home loss to St Mirren soon followed, with murmurings of discontent appearing in West Lothian.
Livi would get their heads down and work hard to change their fortunes, leading to a five-game unbeaten run. A 3-0 away win at St Johnstone and a last-minute Tom Parkes winner at Ross County gave the Lions a big boost, leading into a goalless draw at Celtic Park with Stryjek the hero after saving a Giorgios Giakoumakis penalty.
A tough three fixtures against Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen would come before Livi finally find their groove, coming into more consistency as they picked up points in ten of their next thirteen games. Impressive away wins at Dundee United and Hibernian being the pick of the bunch, with Bruce Anderson’s form taking the striker to the top end of the scoring charts. This run set the Lions up well for a crack at the top six with the club much closer to European contention than the relegation battle perceived at the start of the season.
However, Livingston fell just short of the top six, with a last-minute equaliser for Motherwell on matchday 33 giving Livi no chance of making Europe. It looked like Livi’s season would pitter out from here, but the club responded tremendously, going unbeaten within the split and finishing best of the bottom half, defeating Aberdeen and Hibernian on the way.
Being the lowest budgeted team in the league, avoiding relegation is a successful season for the West Lothian club this season. There will be disappointment in the way the club missed out on a chance at Europe but this season was certainly a good building block to improve on next year. With the majority of the playing squad signed up for the next year, the target may very well shift from simply avoiding relegation as it has in previous years.
Player of the Season: Jason Holt
There were a number of deserving candidates for this accolade, with Nicky Devlin, Jack Fitzwater, Alan Forrest and Bruce Anderson being worthy but you can’t look past Jason Holt this season.
The midfielder was superb in the middle of the park for Livi, only missing one hundred and seven minutes of action this year, being a mainstay in the Lions midfield. Holt’s defensive capabilities see him second in the league for interceptions and fifth for tackles won as well as being the third most fouled player this season. Holt is trustworthy on the ball and has allowed Livi to retain the ball a lot better this season whilst starting off many attacks. He won’t grab headlines due to a lack of goals and assists but he is very key in the build-up with great energy that has made him a valuable asset this season. Holt deservedly earned Players Player of the Year at the club’s award ceremony, capping off a terrific campaign for the twenty-nine-year-old. Holt has really found a home at Livingston, with the club being a perfect fit for the midfielder’s attributes and now finds himself as one of the first names on the team sheet.
Underperformer of the Season: Caleb Chukwuemeka
As Livingston announced the loan signing of Aston Villa’s attacker Caleb Chukwuemeka, the Livi social media feed was met with great optimism as fans of the Birmingham based club were praising the player’s talents. The player had shown himself to be a good player within the Premier League 2, winning Player of the Month in September after scoring five goals and gaining an assist in three matches. Due to this, claims were coming that Livi were getting a true gem who according to some, would “walk the league”.
Unfortunately, Chukwuemeka wasn’t the right fit for Livingston, joining in a crunch period of the season where the club could afford no passengers. The Villa loanee would fail to impress, with a lack of work rate seeing the attacker hauled off after coming on for only seven minutes in a game against Aberdeen. Chances would come in few opportunities for Chukwuemeka following this, only playing a further 114 minutes from the Lion’s final 14 games of the season. The loan spell didn’t work out quite as well as any of the parties would have hoped, with Chukwuemeka returning to Steven Gerrard’s side, with another loan spell, perhaps in England this time, surely on the cards to continue the development of the player.
Signing of the Season: Bruce Anderson
A swap deal for Jay Emmanuel-Thomas plus cash makes Bruce Anderson the biggest bargain in the league this season. This was a fantastic piece of business from David Martindale as Anderson would go on to score thirteen goals for the club, with it likely being more had it not been for injury.
It was a tough start to life in Livingston for Anderson but as the season went on, it was clear to see the striker’s ability. Only Kyogo Furuhashi has more goals and assists per ninety minutes, with Anderson finishing the season as the league’s fifth top scorer. Those in Aberdeen will be wondering why the forward wasn’t given a proper chance with his success this season, especially with the club’s attacking woes.
Anderson will be hoping for a more injury-free season next year, with the forward missing a fair amount of games due to an ankle injury. The striker also missed out due to health reasons, with Anderson suffering a diabetic fit at Easter Road earlier this season. The former Aberdeen man hasn’t let these obstacles get in his way through, with a great first season under his belt where he has become a fan favourite. Anderson has really bought into the Livingston ethos and has only improved with each game. 15 goal contributions in his debut campaign have earned the striker a lot of plaudits, with who knows where consistent form could take him in the future.
Goal of the Season: Ayo Obileye vs Aberdeen
Known more so for his penalty-taking antics, Ayo Obileye popped up with a couple of goals in open play for Livingston this season. None are as memorable as his delightful finish against Aberdeen, executing tremendous skill that one wouldn’t normally associate with a no-nonsense centre half.
As Livingston had a corner, the ball fell to Bruce Anderson who fired toward goal. In the way was Ayo Obileye, who instinctively turned and flicked the ball into the air in one motion, with the ball evading Gary Woods and even more impressively Christian Ramirez who had rushed to the goal line. It was a truly sublime piece of skill that looks to have gone under the radar this season, although Obileye was rightly awarded Goal of the Season by his club.
Moment to Forget: Missing Out On Top 6
Livingston were minutes away from securing a third consecutive top-six finish but squandered a 2-0 lead against Motherwell to draw 2-2, with the Steelmen taking the Lion’s place in the top half. With positive results against Dundee United and Ross County this season, had Livi finished in the top half they very well could have earned European football, as Motherwell would go on to do. A last-minute Ricki Lamie goal meant the Lions would be in the bottom half in heartbreaking fashion. It’s always rough missing out but to do so in such a way makes it even harder to take.
Livi will rue that showing but will also be frustrated that they didn’t pick up more points along the way that would’ve secured top 6. David Martindale will look at a number of games where the club dropped silly points, such as a poor equaliser for Ross County up in Dingwall or being defeated twice by St Johnstone. In a way, it’s a season of what could have been for Livi, although it has been yet another successful campaign for the West Lothian club.
Moment of the Season: The Final Day
Possibly a strange one for people to see in a season where Livi beat and drew with Celtic but the final day 2-1 victory over Dundee is my highlight of the season. A dead rubber game with Livi guaranteed seventh and Dundee relegated, the game had little meaning in terms of how the result went.
However, it was a day that allowed Livingston fans the chance to give a deserved farewell to a number of players and thank the team for the season, something that hadn’t been offered in the past few years. The past few seasons have seen the likes of Steven Lawless, Jon Guthrie, Alan Lithgow and Lyndon Dykes leave without a deserved send off as legends of the club. This season allowed the fans to show their appreciation for the likes of Craig Sibbald, Jack McMillan and Alan Forrest among others, something simple that means a lot to supporters.
For Livi fans, this game will forever be in memory thanks to the Premiership debut of Gary Maley. Maley has been a servant with the club since they were in League 1, joining following spells at a host of junior clubs as a backup/coach. With the keeper calling an end on his playing career, the 39-year old was given one last moment which was met by one of the biggest cheers of the season. The moment lifted the crowd, creating one of the best atmospheres of the season and encouraging the team to come back from 1-0 down.
With Maley’s presence now on the park, Livi would get two goals to seal a victory on the final day of the season. Andrew Shinnie directed in from close range whilst Alan Forrest said goodbye with a trademark finish, allowing the end of season parties to get started as the game drew to a close. The squad took to the pitch for the last time this season with a real sense of togetherness in the stadium as the fans showed their appreciation for the club’s efforts.
Football is about the feel-good moments and experiencing those with great people. The buzz around the club on that day was infectious and carried onto the Player of the Year award ceremony where everyone was in great spirits. Simple moments like these will stick with the fans and those at the club forever, with the 2021/22 season being another successful one for the team. The club is in a very good place with a great group of people working on and off the pitch, with hopefully more enjoyment coming as a top-flight club.